Last Circus, The (2010)





THE SCOOP
Director: Alex de la Iglesia
Cast:  Carlos ArecesAntonio de la Torre and Carolina Bang
Plot: Javier finds work in a circus where he befriends an outlandish cast of characters, but as the Sad Clown he must take the abuse of the brutish Happy Clown Sergio, who humiliates him daily in the name of entertainment. It is here that he meets Natalia, a gorgeous acrobat, and abused wife of Sergio. Javier falls deeply in love with Natalia and tries to rescue her from her cruel and violent husband.

Genre: Comedy/Horror/War
Awards: Won Best Director and Best Screenplay. Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice).
Runtime: 107min
Rating: R21 for brutal and bloody violence throughout, some strong sexual content, nudity and language.

IN RETROSPECT
If you ever wonder what the director of Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), Death Proof (2007), and Inglourious Basterds (2009) would come out with if he decides to do an action-horror film involving clowns, look no further than The Last Circus. I won't be surprised if its DVD goes by the label "Quentin Tarantino Presents', but even if it isn't, The Last Circus is the kind of film the maverick director would endorse.

Written and directed by Alex de la Iglesia (The Day of the Beast, 1995; Perdita Durango, 1997; La comunidad, 2000), this Spanish film won Best Screenplay and Best Director at the Venice Film Festival.

The Last Circus is one of the most bizarre of films to come out in recent years, yet it has a premise that is as simple as this: Javier (Carlos Areces), the Sad Clown, tries to save a pretty gymnast named Natalia (Carolina Bang) from her maniac lover Sergio (Antonio de la Torre), the Happy Clown, and ends up in the strangest of love triangles that would turn him crazy.

Set in a travelling circus, and in the larger backdrop of the brutal Franco regime that is reaching its end, The Last Circus combines politics, action, and horror in a film that is difficult to like, but easy to admire.

I say it's difficult to like the film simply because there is no character to form any emotional attachment with. The Happy Clown is sadistic, the Sad Clown turns sadistic, and Natalie, caught in between a clown-esque tug-of-war, becomes unsure who the worse animal is.

Any sane person would leave the circus, and though Natalie is considerably sane enough, she seems to be happy to be within the company of two men who see violence and torture as circus acts. Call it demented, if you will, but The Last Circus is actually kind of a fun film to see.

The film's over-the-top violence and some stomach-churning scenes involving self-mutilation give Iglesia's film a 'grindhouse' feel. The copious amounts of blood spilt are thankfully stylized, and with the film's cannon-let-loose approach, it's hard to take things seriously, even with all the political subtext thrown into the audience's faces.

Iglesia's staging of each action set-piece, be it a chase down a dark path in a cave, or a military onslaught, is masterful. He makes events in the film interesting to watch, even if they are brutal and bloody.

The Last Circus ends on a self-pitying note, but before it reaches that stage, the film gives us a climax that is every bit as good (read: kick-ass) as its prologue. Like I've mentioned, it's an easy film to admire, especially Iglesia's direction and the way he moves his camera with intent and skill.

However, he gives us no chance to sympathize, let alone reconciliate with the characters, who are seemingly devoid of redeeming qualities. The famous line from Park Chan-wook's Oldboy (2003) - "Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone" couldn't have been a more apt tagline for this bewildering picture.

Verdict: Bizarre, violent, and over-the-top, this Spanish grindhouse-inspired film is very well-shot, but fails to connect with the audience.

GRADE: B-

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